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Scientists have genetically modified a bacterial toxin to kill HIV infected cells that survive traditional HIV treatment

The way current retroviral therapy works is to hinder the replication of the HIV virus, either by stopping it entering the cell, reproducing within the cell, or leaving the cell once it has replicated. Whilst this dramatically reduces the amount of active virus in the bloodstream it cannot eliminate all HIV infected cells.

A research team from the University of North Carolina and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have genetically modified a bacterial toxin, known as 3B3-PE38, which attacks HIV infected cells and causes cell death by halting protein synthesis.

In an experiment 40 HIV infected mice were given retroviral drugs, but only 20 also were given 3B3-PE38. The team found that the mice treated with 3B3-PE38 along side the retrovirals showed “significantly reduced” levels of HIV infected cells in both blood and across multiple organs.

“Our work provides evidence that HIV-infected cells can be tracked down and destroyed throughout the body,” said J. Victor Garcia, PhD, professor of medicine and senior author of the study published January 9 in the journal PloS Pathogens

Scientists believe that this may well be the future of HIV treatment. Complimenting traditional HIV treatment with an immunotoxin, such as 3B3-PE38, could bring levels of the virus down far more quickly in patients and keep them stable for longer – possibly without the need for a lifetime retroviral drugs.

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